in & of itself - In and Of Itself

A couple years ago, two-time Close-Up Magician of the Year Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães broke records at Los Angeles’ Geffen Theatre with their magic show Nothing To Hide. That production was extended to 144 performances, breaking daily and weekly box office sales, and grossing more than $1 million before moving to New York City. It was one of those little shows that became the thing to see in LA. When I saw it, the theater was filled with a who’s who of Hollywood, all there to see exactly what everyone was talking about. And the show itself, in many ways was about that — about having a special experience with a small group of people, untethered by technology, that couldn’t be taken in anywhere else.

So when Derek DelGaudio announced he would be returning to the Geffen with a new show called In & Of Itself, directed by Frank Oz (The Muppet Studio legend who voiced/performed Yoda and directed many great films in his own right) and featuring an original score by Mark Mothersbaugh (the Devo co-founder who has composed so many great film and television scores over the last three decades, but with notable contributions to Wes Anderson’s films), I knew I had to see it.

And in the months leading up to the show, there has been very little information revealed about what it would even entail. In place of a description, Geffen’s own programing magazine features a one page handwritten letter from Derek explaining why he was unable to write one for this show. Last night I saw the opening night performance, and I can tell you that In & Of Itself is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.

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photo by Kitra Remick

In & Of Itself makes the case for the art of magic with the power of storytelling. Derek DelGaudio isn’t just performing magic tricks but presenting a moving deeply personal and compelling narrative, using magic as a metaphor to reach a deeper truth.

In & Of Itself is not simply a magic show, but a brilliant one-man performance. Actually, I think some people may be surprised just how little magic is featured in this one hour show (six tricks from my count). But if you’re going to see this show just to see some “tricks” then you’re probably going for the wrong reasons. That said, if I have any complaint about this show it is that it should be a little longer (it’s listed at 75 minutes, and our performance ran just over an hour) and feature a little more magic, especially considering the premium $100+ price tag.

Derek makes the show as much about him as he does about you. When you enter the theater you are asked to choose a title that you feel fits you (I chose “Film Buff” from the many options on the table). During the show, Derek has an audience member from the night before come on stage to recall his memory of the previous night’s performance — a review of the show that you’re currently watching, how meta. But it’s more interesting than it sounds because it’s more about what we take away from the experience and how we interpret the magic that happens before us.

The magic is top notch. None of the illusions you will see in this show, aside from the card demonstration, are anything like any magic performance you’ve seen before. I’m an amateur magician who likes to do a couple tricks for friends and is often able to easily figure out how any magic trick “works.” But I found myself constantly befuddled, unable to work it out.

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I hate to spoil any of the tricks presented in the show, but I think to tell you what happens doesn’t really ruin anything. The tricks are metaphors, a part of a larger story that Derek is telling on stage. A brick isn’t just a brick, a letter isn’t just a letter, and that wall isn’t just a wall. So here is an example of what kind of “tricks” you will see:

The biggest miracle of the show happens when Derek chooses a randomly selected member from the audience to come on stage and select a letter from a half dozen envelopes pulled minutes before from a cubby in the backdrop of the show. The audience member opens the envelope to find not some cheesy prediction of numbers picked earlier in the show, but something hugely personal. At my show a lady found a deeply personal letter from her mother in Colorado handwritten to her that almost brought her to tears.

There are few moments in the art of magic that have elicited that kind of physical emotion from an audience, and this is one of only two tricks that I’ve witnessed that have brought audience members to tears over an illusion (the other is an illusion that David Copperfield does with his grandfather’s car, a shorter, less impactful version of which can be seen in his current Vegas show).

At one point during the show, DelGaudio covers a gold-painted brick on a table with playing cards to make it vanish from the room. How this happens defies explanation. Derek asks for a cross-section of streets in Hollywood. In my audience it was Sunset and Vine, two streets chosen by two different random members from the audience. Derek asked the audience to imagine that the golden brick is now sitting on that corner, ignored by the many people walking by in that busy Hollywood neighborhood.

That image stuck with me after the performance, as it stuck with others in the audience — some of which actually went to the intersection just to see, because… what if?

You surely will be left thinking about In & Of Itself days later.

I’ve heard Penn Jillette say that the key to being a magician is doing more work than the audience even imagines is probable to seemingly accomplish the impossible. Sometimes that takes the form of hours of practice on a sleight with a deck of cards, each day for an entire decade, to pull off one simple card trick. And other times it can mean permanently modifying your body in ways to accomplish something that shouldn’t be physically possible.

There are a few tricks in DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself that seem impossible, but might have an explanation if you think the way magicians think. But even then, the amount of work that is required to pull those tricks off might make a miracle seem more likely. At the end of the day, I found myself not wanting to figure out how he accomplished these miracles, but wanting to believe they actually happened — to bask in the accomplishment of the amazement of what had just occurred on stage in this tiny room filled with only 100 people. Derek again has created a very special experience that must be sought out.

As for the staging, Derek’s previous show Nothing to Hide had closeup magic that was sometimes hard to see the further you were from the front of the theater, but In and Of Itself is designed to work just as well for a person in the last row as for a lady in the first. Frank Oz not only directs but provides a pre-recorded voice for a character during the performance (imagine a fowl mouth version of Gonzo). Mothersbaugh’s score is subtle and innocent at times, and at other more powerful moments, rightfully in your face. I wish I could download these tracks somewhere.

In & Of Itself is playing at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, currently scheduled to end June 12th 2016, although I’m betting it will be extended due to demand.

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